The One: The Life and Music of James Brown (Gotham Books), by R.J. Smith
is called The One, but the title does
not refer to its subject, James Brown. Instead, “the one” is a reference to the
way Brown orchestrated his music with an unyielding emphasis on the first beat
of every measure. The book’s text is as fitting as the title, for in it R.J.
Smith focuses on Brown’s music. In fact, Brown himself remains a frustrating
enigma. We do learn that he was a difficult boss who was obsessed with visual
style as well as sound. Brown’s involvement with regional record labels King
and Smash is eye-opening, as his career takes him from being an abused artist
to having absolute control over his records. Lurid episodes from the road and
trials on the bandstand are not ignored here, but it is the unique music of
Soul Brother No. 1 that keeps the beat throughout this fine book.